Tending the herd
By MIKE CORN
It was roundup time at the Hays buffalo pen, and with a series of improvements in the handling facilities, the task went off with neither man nor buffalo getting hurt.
And that's the goal, even though there was a tense moment when it came time to release the massive herd bull. He wasn't at all pleased with the shots or wormer applied by Mark Augustine, whose duties with the Hays Parks Department include caring for the herd of nine.
He was joined in the task by newcomer Dave Rupp and veterans Chris Rhoades and Mike Bacher.
They all were impressed with the improvements, which include new concrete around the squeeze chute and attached alleyway, about half of it now lined with steel.
In years past, vaccinating and worming the animals typically was done in muddy conditions, but the concrete has stopped that.
"We're a month late because of the weather," Augustine said.
The metal's good, because in the past, the bull was known to poke holes in the wood covering the alleyway.
The goal, Augustine said, is to continue to make improvements, including more steel and a new sorting gate. Much of the material for making the improvements already were on hand, but some, including the sheets of steel, had to be purchased new.
One thing's for sure, the crew agreed, the improvements already have made the task easier.
The city's herd of nine animals -- the bull, four cows and four calves -- are kept in a pen along Big Creek.
There, they are fed hay from Hays Regional Airport and alfalfa, some of which must be purchased. Augustine feeds grain to the animals three times a week.
The four calves likely will be sold sometime near the first of April.
"I like to get them worked the first of April," he said.
That way, they're taken care of before the grass starts greening up and before the next crop of calves are born.
Last year, all four calves were born within 10 days of each other, two on the same day, and all by Memorial Day.
Three of the cows are descendants of the city's original herd. The bull was brought in from the McPherson area to help keep the bloodline fresh.
"My pride and joy," a smiling Augustine said of the buffalo.